A Writer’s Story: The Query Letter

Query Letter.

I don’t think there are any two words more frightening for an author. I spent years trembling before the power of these two words, and the knowledge that “query letter” was essentially my only gateway into the world of traditional publishing. It was my one-page shot, my one chance, to ram my toe in the door of this seemingly impossible-to-break-into industry. If I wanted to see my book on store shelves, I would have to first master the query letter. And I would have to master it perfectly.

If you’re in the Query Letter boat now, struggling with how to begin, I feel your pain. I was once there, I once made it out, and I’m here to help. Let’s go.

Let’s start with a quick run-down on what a query letter actually is. In short, it’s your pitch to literary agents on why they might be interested in repping you and your book. A short letter of inquiry in which you have about three or four paragraphs, or one page, to make your case that your book is good, that it will sell, and that you already have a viable marketing strategy to move it forward. Sound like a lot for one page? Well, I can’t lie to you. It is. So let’s try breaking it down into some simpler steps.

Don’t be afraid! Cute cats are here to help!

For my own query letter for my first published manuscript, I started by reading. Because as mentioned in the first part of this series (click here for a refresher), there are tons of books out there, many written by agents themselves, on how to best approach an agent through your query letter. I highly recommend some of these books, which I have listed below in “Sources.” Give some of them a read before diving in. You will learn so much not only about querying, but also about the publishing industry as a whole. And especially in this case, knowledge will give you great power.  

As for me, after reading at least a half-dozen how-to books on the subject, I learned that most query letters adhere to a three-part structure (just like our manuscripts! Isn’t that funny). Part I is your intro – a quick explanation of why you are writing to this agent in particular, as well as a brief introduction to your completed work. Let’s have a look, using a copy of the Query Letter that I used, and that eventually scored me representation (see my ABOUT ME page).


Dear Ms. Lindsay Guzzardo,


After reading about you on Publisher’s Market Place, and learning about your interest in WWII-era Historical Fiction, I thought my Historical Fiction novel “Six,” complete at 95,000 words, might be of interest to you.



As seen here, Part I of your query letter should be very short and to the point. After all, you want to leave as much room as possible to describe the book itself. And note the personal intro, instead of the classic yet mundane “Dear Agent.” I learned in many books that the generalized mass query method is rarely successful, and it can actually turn agents off. It’s much better to do the research, pick the best agents for your work, and query them all individually. Time consuming, but slow and steady often wins the race!

You also might note that in two or three sentences, you can sum up why you chose to query this particular agent, and how your manuscript matches his or her wish list. In my case, she specifically listed WWII Fiction on her list. And where did I find her wish list? I happened to see an article about her in Publisher’s Market Place, where she listed in detail the manuscripts she was interested in repping. If you don’t have Publisher’s Market Place, or Writer’s Digest (both tools that I highly recommend looking into), there are lots of websites now that list an agent’s book wants – with MSWL (Manuscript Wish List), and Query Tracker being the two most prominent.

Another intro tip is to find something particular about this agent that makes the two of you a good fit. If you google an agent’s name, you will often find a treasure trove of information about him or her – interviews they’ve given, podcast episodes, blog posts, etc. Finding something that a) endears them to you and b) let’s them know you’ve done your homework can only benefit. For example, “I read on your recent interview with so-and-so writing blog that you enjoy female-led works of historical-fiction. It made me think you might enjoy my manuscript.” Trust me, agents love it when you put in the work, because it shows that you are in it for the long haul.

Meow. Query Letters make me sleepy!

Alright, so you’ve got your intro. Let’s move on to the meat of the query letter. Your story pitch. I would give it one or two paragraphs. A lofty goal when summing up hundreds of pages worth of work, and it only gets harder considering that it’s prudent to add a few notes on a marketing strategy for your story as well. This is where “comps” come into the picture, of which I will explain more about below. But first, let’s take a look at the two-paragraph pitch that I used in my query letter:     


D-Day is one of the most iconic moments in history, yet we hear so little from the civilians caught in the crossfire, and how they grasped this unfathomable invasion dropping right on their doorsteps. Of those often overlooked stories, even less exist about the women.


In my novel, constructed around an hour-by-hour timeline of June 6, 1944, six women of various nationalities, ages, and backgrounds fight for survival as the D-Day invasion unfolds before their eyes. In a war relegating civilians to collateral damage, and with rigid gender roles enforcing women being seen and not heard, each woman grapples with her own identity and personal struggles. There are forbidden romances, treasonous alliances, painful losses, and mother/daughter conflicts, all against the backdrop of grisly World War II battles and the harrowing prospect of death. Taking place mostly during this single, momentous day in history, “Six” is a version of M.H. Kelly’s “Lilac Girls” and “Lost Roses,” or Ruta Sepetys’s “Salt to the Sea,” crossed with the bloodied shores of Normandy. Five of the women in this novel are fictional. They show us what it was like to nurse the wounded, work for the Resistance, survive the lethal Gestapo, watch the ships and soldiers storm the beach, and struggle across the battle-riddled Normandy countryside. The sixth woman is a carefully considered account of a real historical figure – Mildred Gillars, better known as Axis Sally

Purrrrr Purrrrrr Purrrrrrrrrr


Whew. That’s a lot of meat to fit into one query letter, so let’s point out some things. First, a query letter is not a synopsis. You don’t have to give away any endings here. In fact, it might be a good idea to put some unanswered questions in there that will intrigue an agent. In this case, I didn’t give away who makes it out alive and who doesn’t. I didn’t even give away which woman was involved with which intense plot line. I just summed up the conflicts that arise and left the agent to guess the rest. It obviously worked, since she hit me up the next day for a full.

You might also notice the mention of other books. This is what is referred to as “comps,” books that are “comparable” to your own and will accomplish many things in a query letter. First, they give your agent-hopeful a reference point for what to expect out of your manuscript. Second, they show that you are up to date on your reading and that you know what books are selling. Third, they show that you’ve thought about your book in a marketing sense, knowing which audiences you’d like to get a piece of, and which readers will gravitate towards you and your work. With those key points in mind, picking the right comps can sometimes be a tricky business. I recommend books that did pretty well (well enough that most people in the biz will have heard of them), books that came out in the last four or five years, and books that are of similar genre and plot to your own. They don’t have to be an exact match, but they should have some basics in common like time period, main characters, or setting.

That was a lot of work. Nap time.

Alright, the hard part is over. You’ve got a great intro and a sizzling pitch. Now it’s time to sell yourself as an author. In this closer paragraph, you should sum up your writing experience, your expertise, and your marketable assets in a couple sentences. If you have no prior publications, that’s okay. I didn’t either. Honestly, I have it on good authority that agents are more interested in whether they can sell the book than anything else, but it’s still a good idea to market yourself as the right person to tell your story. So if you have no other writing credits, think of some other things that can give you a boost. Do you have job experience that makes you an expert on your subject? Have you been to the places you’re writing about? Do you have a degree in writing? Do you have years of study on your subject? It all works, and it all helps. Here is the closer I used:   


 I am a lifelong student of history, especially military history, and I have visited battlefields and historical sites all over the world. I have a degree in Cinema and Comparative Literature, and I have served as a historical consultant and researcher on films and television in Los Angeles. I have a strong passion to connect people to the human side of history through writing, and to include the perspective of empowered female characters. 


I thank you very much for your time


And you’re done! See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Query letters can be intimidating and a bit scary, but I think you’ll find that once you get started, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Just put in the work and follow the rules, and you will soon have a crackling query letter that will hopefully snag you an agent’s attention. So get your butt in that writing chair and get busy! Because your future in publishing awaits!

Ta dah!



Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you would like to see covered in this series? Hit me up below!


Get a Literary Agent: The Complete Guide to Securing Representation for your Work – C. Sambuchino


Rock Your Query – C. Yardley


The Short Fuse Guide to Query Letters – M.E. Richter & G. Warnock


How to Write a Great Query Letter – N. Lukeman


The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters – W. Burt-Thomas


My cats were very happy to be featured in this article. They hope you found comfort in their cuteness when dealing with such a scary topic! 


44 Comments on “A Writer’s Story: The Query Letter

  1. I wonder which is the hardest work, writing the book oor getting it out there. I suspect the latter! Excellent information I’m sure will be appreciated by those trying to do the same as you!

    • Honestly they’re both equally hard! It’s a tough business but I can’t imagine doing anything else, so I guess that is that! 🙂

    • I’m very glad you think so Dave! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for sharing your expertise in writing a bang up query letter, MB. I appreciate it. I will refer to your articles time and time again, I’m sure.

    • Yay! That makes me very happy to help! If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

    • Oh please do Derrick!! 🙂 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful day!

  3. I wonder if the sources you suggest at the end will be annoyed that in this one piece you’ve given away the strategy they hope to sell 🙂 Thanks for this wonderful, demystifying tutorial!

    • LOL!!! Oooops. Guess I didn’t think of it that way. But I’m glad you took a lot from the piece and I hope it helps you on your own writing journey! 🙂

  4. M.B., you fascinate me! You are an amazingly gifted writer, researcher, storyteller, teacher, and ….wait for it…cat mom! I’m ashamed to admit that your beautiful book is within an arm’s reach, calling out to me to be read. The ups and downs of my journey right now, along with eyes that barely can get through a day on the computer, have kept me from it. It sits there as my treasure. Two of my friends, and my twin, have commented that they wish to read and/or buy it. I’ll be a mouthpiece and a review. I can’t wait to devour it when I’m off this current wave. The query letter has always seemed scary to me. It takes me back to my college days and even pitching for jobs. But this,…it’s with my heart goals. I’m peanut butter and jealous of writers, such as you, that can take the beautiful history and turn it into a masterpiece of such great stories mixed with fiction and facts! In my mind, I can SEE them…but I can’t get the words on paper. Thus, I stick with my non-fiction. My current journey involves a Christian Publishing Company and what I “see” to be a devotional of some sort; one that uses all my current blog pieces to wrap up my life and my current cancer diagnosis into some form. I don’t know what that is yet, M.B. But that’s my start. I’m so glad to see you and your precious furry companion. I feel bad that I’m not a good and consistent reader. But I remember you daily in my prayers and thoughts as I have you written in “ink” in my prayer journal. Keep up the good work, my friend! May your life’s history, your love for history, and gifts and talents keep you moving right along in good health and prosperity! Specifically, I’ll be headed back to infusion center today (my twin will go with me). I’m going weekly as my bone marrow refuses to cooperate right now. Transfusions, infusions, shots,…I’m worn out, friend. But I’ll keep on keepin’ on! As I know you will too! Love and hugs! 💕

    • <3 <3 Don't even worry about the book. You'll get to it when you get to it and even if you don't, just knowing I have your support and prayers is enough for me! I think about you an awful lot, I know how worn out you must be feeling, and that's why your upbeat and positive posts are always such an inspiration. How you're always able to find the good and the silver linings in this storm. Were you to put your powerful blog pieces together into a book, I'm sure it would be an amazing read, leaving people feeling so much better about the world! And that is a powerful thing. Take good care of yourself friend, don't be afraid to rest if you need to! <3

      • Aww, M.B.,…your words touched me heart, my friend. I think of you often, too. Last Sunday, before my oldest son and family left, he said, “Let’s go to Wilson’s Creek Battlefield”. I thought of you. M.B., it was so precious to see my little grandson there, with my pup, Finley, on the leash, as he made his way up to the Ray House. And I reminded my son how General Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union General to die in the War and how that battle was the first major one west of the Mississippi. Big. Gen. Ben McCulloch reinforced Maj. General Sterling Price’s victory gave the Confederates control of SW MO (he just smiled hearing his Mom retell the story…lol). My little grandson came out with a small cannon and my little granddaughter came out wearing a bonnet. Yes, this Grandma’s heart was proud. Out of all the people I know, it was you I thought of that day. Thank you for your kind words of support and encouragement. It means more than you’ll ever know, my friend. Big hugs and prayers always! ❤️

      • Sounds like a trip that would be right up my alley! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. Thanks for reaffirming my decision to forgo publishing a book! On the other hand, once upon a time I read a good bit about query letters and such, thinking I might give it a try. What you’ve provided here is head and shoulders above any of the advice/guidance I came across a decade ago.

    • I’m glad you think so, that’s nice to hear! 🙂 Although I’m very sorry to hear you won’t be publishing a book!

  6. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Query letters are so hard — totally subjective to the needs of the industry, what the agent is looking for, and even how they are feeling that day. But you just have to keep going. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes – just keep plugging away. Sometimes, I feel like publishing is a game of last person standing!

  7. Excellent advice – thank you for sharing your experience. The thought of a query letter sounds quite daunting, but you’ve broken it down into manageable chunks.

    • I’m happy to share and help other writers along the journey. I would have made it nowhere without help! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. That is such excellent advice, MB. You have illustrated how important the query letter is and how to approach it in easy steps. Your writing skills are sublime and any editor would be lucky to have you. Thank you! K xx

    • Thanks so much! It sure always cheers me up to hear stuff like that! 🙂

  9. Thank you for this! I’m not quite to the query letter step but I need to start thinking about it.

    • You are most welcome! If you have any questions when the time comes, feel free to drop them here, I’d be happy to help!

  10. Great post, MB! I have a basic query letter, but it needs updating. You brought up some important details, like tailoring it to the person you’re directing it towards. Nice cat pictures. 🙂 Your tortoiseshell looks like a cat I used to have.

    • I do love my torties 🙂 Although both of them are loaded with tortietude. Glad the post helped you! If you have any other query q’s, feel free to let me know

  11. I feel like the dreaded one word “synopsis” is scarier than the two word “query letter.” Trying to sum up a full-length novel in a two-page synopsis is like Congress trying to pass bipartisan legislation.😊

    • HAHAHA! Well done on the analogy. I agree synopsis is equally if not more scary! Perhaps I can cover that in a future article in this series.

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